Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
Review of “Eurydice ,“ “Not Now, Darling,” “Arrow to the Heart” … and local theater news
By Pat Launer , SDNN
June 24, 2010
THE PLAY: “Eurydice ,” a modern take on an ancient tale, at Moxie Theatre
It’s the ultimate love story: the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, about a passion that endures beyond the grave. After Eurydice’s shocking death on their wedding day, the acclaimed musician, Orpheus, is determined to follow his young bride to the Underworld and bring her back. When he plays his sorrowful music, the gods melt, and allow him to enter and return with her – on one condition: He must walk in front of her and never look back. But at the last minute, he turns around, and she’s lost to him forever.
The tragic tale has been told in myriad ways – in books, plays, songs, paintings, operas, poems, ballets, film, even a freeware game. But it’s typically seen through the eyes of the one Left Behind. Sarah Ruhl , two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, is an iconoclastic, feminist fantasist, who tells a whole other tale – from Eurydice’s perspective. We not only see how she died (not a snakebite , as in the original, but through enticement by the slithery, reptilian Lord of the Underworld); we also learn what it’s like to arrive down below, having lost all language and memory (thanks to a dip in the Lethe, river of forgetfulness). The first person she encounters – besides the trio of remonstrating Stones, is a man she thinks is the hotel porter.
She’s petulant, demanding, insists on having her own room and a Continental breakfast. He, avuncular and ever-obliging, tries to give her what she wants, within the confines of his eternal home (turns out there are no rooms, no food). He turns out to be her father, who died when she was young (the playwright’s father also died early, which inspired her to write the piece). Gradually, caringly, patiently, he re-teaches her language and reconnects her to her past. Their relationship is touching and beautiful. And then… Orpheus arrives. Eurydice is forced to choose between her husband and her father. Love is inextricably linked to loss: she chooses to stay, to strengthen her father-daughter bond, rather than facing the challenges of a living, breathing, real -world marital relationship.
Unlike the strikingly inventive but hugely enigmatic production at UCSD in 2004, this Moxie Theatre mounting underscores rather than obfuscates the powerful emotional core of the play. If you listen to the music and poetry of the piece, you’ll be absolutely smitten. It’s a gorgeous, poignant, surreal dreamscape, a sad/funny/painful meditation on devotion and desolation, choices and communication, remembering and forgetting. Both play and production will take your breath – and heart – away.
The marvelous director, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, digs deep to mine the humor, sentiment, ardor and agony of the characters. Jennifer Eve Thorn is radiant as the title character, wide-eyed and open-hearted, leaping fearlessly into the abyss, and into the arms of father and husband. Justin Lang is darling as her mate, a tad inarticulate, always distracted by his music (“This is what it’s like to love an artist,” Eurydice claims), but still, devoted and determined. Max Macke is by turns funny, creepy, sinister and reptilian, as the man/child Lord of the Underworld, who sports the show’s most comical costumes — and is pretty sporty with a skateboard, too.
Second-grader Zoë Tuner Sonnenberg, adorably talented daughter of the director, holds her own quite nicely in the Greek Chorus of funny/ kvetchy Stones, joining scowling Fred Harlow and amusing Rhona Gold , who, as the Loud Stone, over- volumizes many words (including “Quiet!”). And making a welcome return to local stages, Todd Blakesley exudes a warm, patient, paternal tenderness that may just make you weep.
The design elements parallel the high level of performance. Jennifer Brawn Gittings, a prolific costumer about town, gets to show the full range of her skill and imagination. Her ingenious costumes include whimsical getups for the Under-god and a pull-off bridal gown for Eurydice. The makeup for the Stones is flinty gray. And she also created the set, which features all manner of special effects: a personal rain shower, a pop-up room made of rope, a cascade of petals, a delivery of books. Magical. And matched by a beautiful lighting design ( Jason Bieber ) and a spectacular soundscape (Matt Lescault -Wood), an enchanting array of music, noises, songs and dripping water.
Release all expectations of reality, rationality and linearity. Let yourself fall, just as Eurydice plummets, into another world. Savor this show with your heart.
THE LOCATION: Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd , in the Rolando area near SDSU . (858) 598-7620 ; www.moxietheatre.com
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $15-$25. Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through June 27 (NOTE: Moxie is currently working to extend the production)
Bottom Line: BEST BET
THE PLAY: “Not Now, Darling ,” a 1967 English farce, at Scripps Ranch Theatre
Theaterfolk know that good comedy is seriously difficult. And farce may be hardest of all. The hair-trigger timing. The mega-sized double-takes. The slamming doors. The pratfalls. And don’t forget the scantily-clad women. Scripps Ranch Theatre pulls it all off (literally and figuratively) with aplomb, in their delightful production of “Not Now, Darling,” by Ray Cooney and John Chapman. There’s the usual array of missed connections, miscommunications and mistaken identities. But each character is a gem, in a very funny cast of eleven, under the astute direction of Jim Caputo , who stepped in late in the game and pulled some very comical rabbits out of this humorous hat.
This classic English farce set box office records in London , Paris and New York . But it’s gotta be done right. And this is right. Heading the hilarious cast are Eric Poppick as the conniving, ever-philandering boss, and Mark Loveless as his clueless, hapless partner, who’s forced into making all the excuses and keeping all the right people in and out of sight; in various fits of panic, he repeatedly throws incriminating evidence – including underwear – out the window of their tony fur salon.
The gals who hide, half-naked, in two stage-flanking closets – wives, mistresses, who can keep track? – are funny hotties Danielle DeCarlo (as a demanding, pseudo-classy stripper) and Sunny Smith (as a gum-snapping, dim-bulb blonde bombshell). Smith continued performing before and after – but at least not during! — her recent SRO/smash hit wedding to actor/writer/director Matt Thompson .
The mates of these fur-and affair- hungry gals – not exactly portraits of marital fidelity themselves — are played by Bobby Shiefer (convincing) and Don Pugh (charmingly lower class and then skull-banging menacing – something he does so well). As a non-essential older couple, there’s a dithering Dave Rethoret and a superciliously superb Kathryn Herbruck . Svelte Michelle Burkhart looks alarmingly like a mannequin, and DeNae Steele is solid as the stalwart secretary who tries to keep it all together, which helps her get noticed by the second-string boss she’s been ogling for years.
So all’s well that ends… with various matchups and mashups . The design work is delectable: set by Brian Redfern , lighting by Mitchell Simkovsky , costumes by Teri Brown and sound by Steve Murdock). Laura Holmbrook served as dialect coach and managed to squeeze a number of geographical and socioeconomic strata into the mix.
If you’re a fan, farce never goes out of style… and this is one stylish production.
THE LOCATION: Scripps Ranch Theatre, at the Legler Ben bough Theatre on the campus of Alliant University, (858) 578-7728; www.scrippsranchtheatre.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $10-$20. Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through June 26
Bottom Line: BEST BET
THE PLAY: “Arrow to the Heart ,” a new drama, produced by Vox Nova Theatre, in association with UCSD’s Division of Arts & Humanities and Department of Theatre and Dance
One young man’s experience of grief and loss. A fraught father-son relationship, a tight mother-son bond. Nathan is lost and confused, trying to revisit and understand himself and the last twelve months of his life. His mother was erroneously diagnosed with cervical cancer. Heartache Number One. Then his successful, entrepreneurial father, being hounded by the IRS, is at peril of imprisonment. During the traumatic process, Dad suffers a life-threatening heart attack and later, a stroke. Nathan’s safe, self-involved little world — his parents at a geographical distance, his girlfriend kept at an emotional distance, his academic life far away from the family business – spirals out of control. He has to be forced to remember, look back, process the whole series of events, by an other -worldly muse of memory (lithe, agile Robin Christ). Again and again (similarly, repetitively), she hands him each of his composition books. He reads from his journals, re-enacts some of the scenes, philosophizes about life, death, love, work, family, illness, God, mourning, guilt, regret and forgiveness. And in the process, one hopes , he becomes a man.
There’s a poetic and ethereal quality to some of Allan Havis’ new drama, but there’s also a slowness , sameness and flatness in the presentation of what should be a piercing emotional experience, true to its title. This applies to both production and play. Only periodically do we crawl inside the action; mostly we’re kept at a contemplative, intellectual remove.
Christ does the most impressive work, both in her dance moves and the multiple characters she plays, with varied accents: the muse, the girlfriend, the psychic, the IRS auditor, Nate’s Aunt Betty, an outsourced Indian helpdesk operator. Beyond all those colorful cameos, we get a formerly energetic and now depressed mother ( Eva Barnes ), a judgmental, uncommunicative father (Dale Morris) and a hyper-analytical son (UCSD MFA student Daniel Rubiano ). Director Ruff Yeager , artistic director of Vox Nova, tries to highlight the poetry of the piece, but there are just too many interferences from side issues and tangential references – from Kierkegaard to healthcare, Susan Sontag to the Tea Party movement. There’s a deep and moving family story here, a parable for our times. As a new work, it shows considerable potential.
THE LOCATION: Vox Nova Theatre, in the Arthur Wagner Theatre on the campus of UC San Diego (in Galbraith Hall) . (619) 816-7638 ; www.voxnovatheatrecompany.com
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $8-$15. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through June 27
SOMETHING NEW IN TOWN
It was a first in several ways: the inauguration of a new cabaret locale –The Celebration Cabaret – and the debut of a first-time cabaret show for stage/TV/film actor Emily Bergl . Both are promising – and both could use a bit of refinement. The venue is in an attractive spiritual meeting-place (The Celebration Center in Sorrento Valley ). There’s a welcoming reception/concessions area and a high-ceilinged performance space that has auditorium-style seating and high-perched, apparently uncoverable windows. The stage, about 4-5 feet high, is a bit daunting. But Bergl seemed fearless, in a fantastic costume that stripped down from a long gown to a short, flirty dress and ultimately to glittery lingerie. She looked stunning in all. San Diegans know she’s a gorgeous, charismatic performer; she was incandescent as Juliet in “R&J” (Old Globe, 1998) and Emily in “Our Town” (La Jolla Playhouse, 2001). She has humor and attitude to spare, though her acting chops are stronger than her voice, which is thin at the top. She couldn’t ask for a better accompanist.
San Diego favorite (now a San Franciscan) G. Scott Lacy is not only a terrific pianist, he’s also a wonderful singer, who provided great harmony and smiling support. Besides his many musical direction gigs, Lacy has been an outstanding accompanist to local performers such as Sandy Campbell and Angelo d’Agostino . As always, his song selection was quirky and unpredictable. Most were aimed at humor or pathos (“Peel Me a Grape,” “ Cryin ’). This new cabaret act, dubbed “Kidding on the Square” (an old expression, Bergl explains, meaning “the truth behind the smile”), reveals her to be a “Material Girl” who knows her way around heartbreak. The show is off on tour, to Chicago , New York and Seattle. Directed by Sarna Lupine, it would benefit from more authentic, unscripted audience interaction. The Celebration Cabaret is somewhat distancing in that regard, but ace cabaret producer Sher Krieger (formerly of Schroeder’s and Tango del Rey) is sure to find a way to make it work. Coming to the stage in August: Andrea Marcovicci in “ The History of the Torch Song” (8/8). Info and tickets at www.thecelebrationchurch.org (click on Events).
NEWS AND VIEWS
… If you’re in the ’hood: If you happen to be in L.A. this weekend, and you didn’t catch the Native American New Play Festival when it was showcased at the La Jolla Playhouse a couple of weeks ago, do not miss this year’s offerings. The two staged readings I saw were dramatically written and excellently performed: “ Tombs of the Vanishing Indian,” by Marie Clements (Métis), a harrowing tale of the blood, anguish and dashed dreams of three disparate sisters in 1970s L.A. (Did you know there was a program of Native American sterilization in California — that recently?); and “ On the Mangled Beam,” by Dawn Jamieson (Cayuga), about the role of Iroquois ironworkers in the building of the World Trade Center and the dangerous post-9/11 demolition and repair work. These men were invaluable to the effort, yet they were often treated like third-class citizens. The third piece, “ Time Immemorial,” by Jack Dalton ( Yup’ik ) and Allison Warden (Inupiaq) , portrays the history of an Inupiaq village in Alaska . Ms. Clements’ play was expertly directed by San Diego’s own Seema Sueko, founder/artistic director of Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, and Ms. Jamieson’s included local actors Scott Amiotte (Omaha) and Adam Parker . For the second year, the Festival was preceded by a playwrights retreat at SDSU; the founder/producing artistic director of Native Voices at the Autry, is Randy Reinholz (Choctaw), Director of SDSU’s School of Theatre, Television, and Film. The staged readings run 5/26-27, at the Wells Fargo Theater in Griffith Park , Los Angeles . Tickets (only $5-10) and info at www.theautry.org
… Oh Brothers, Where Art Thou ? : That wacky local acrobatic performing family, The Platt Brothers have, as they report, “finally, officially fulfilled one of our major lifetime goals: to work with the legendary Cirque du Soleil.” They just finished the Xbox 360 Kinect launch for Microsoft , which was imagined and brought to life by the world-famous Cirque . You can see photos of their wild wigs and costumes at www.theplattbrothers.com . And look for the Platts at Qualcomm Stadium on July 9, where they’ll be performing at the opening ceremonies of the California State Games, an event that also features Olympic athletes and a fireworks display.
… Calling All Theater Angels: Nominations are now being accepted for the Lucy Jordan Humanitarian Award, established in 1992 to commemorate a former ballerina and chorus “gypsy” who for many years was the representative of Actors’ Equity in the Western Region . The award is given to those in the “extended theater community” who demonstrate “a lifetime commitment to the theater and especially, helping other theater artists.” The deadline for nomination is August 1. For an application, contact Richard Ostlund at ROstlund@actorsequity.org or (323) 978-8080 x112.
…Riding the Hot Tamale Train: San Diegan Mary Murphy, the “Queen of Scream” on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” will appear as a guest star in select cities during the 40-week U.S. tour of the Broadway dance show, “Burn the Floor.” Murphy, a Ballroom Dance Champion who made her Broadway debut in the show earlier this year, is scheduled to appear in the San Diego and San Jose engagements of the Latin and Ballroom dance spectacular. The show has already burned the floor in more than 30 countries. Murphy will be joined onstage by “SYTYCD” winners and finalists Robbie Kmetoni , Ashleigh and Ryan De Lello , Karen Hauer and Janette Manrara . “A Broadway San Diego/ Nederlander presentation, “Burn” plays at the Civic Theatre, October 12-17. www.broadwaysd.com
Big Bucks !: Close on the heels of its big wins at the Tony Awards (four statuettes/eight nominations), the La Jolla Playhouse wins big again, with a whopping $900,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation. Five major California arts institutions were given a total $3.7 million, as part of Irvine ’s Arts Innovation Fund (AIF); $8.6 million overall was given to 15 organizations statewide, for use in programs focused on arts, culture, democracy and youth. The other arts recipients, all prior AIF grantees, are The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles , the Music Center in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Symphony . The money, doled out over four years, is intended to be used to support “creative audience development approaches and/or innovative programming plans.” As artistic director Christopher Ashley put it, this grant “affords the theater the opportunity of expanding our artistic reach with productions beyond the four walls of our theaters.” Check back here to find out how that plays out for the theater and the community.
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS FOR THE WEEK
v “Eurydice” – modern twist on an ancient myth; magical, deep and beautifully crafted play and production
Moxie Theatre, through 6/27 (with possible extension; in negotiation)
v “Not Now, Darling” – wacky English farce, delectably done
Scripps Ranch Theatre, through 6/26
v “Dog Sees God” – the Peanuts gang grows up – badly; darkly comic
InnerMission Productions at Diversionary Theatre, through 6/27
v “Private Lives” – bitter, acidic and deliciously irresistible
Cygnet Theatre, through 7/3
v “Footloose” – footloose and fancy free; high energy, fine singing and dancing
Welk Resorts Theatre, through 6/27
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘Pat Launer,’ and the name of the play of interest, in the SDNN Search box.
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic. She can be reached at patlauner.sdnn ( at) gmail.com